Optimism by design

Corbusier is credited with the title of the Father of ‘Critical Regionalism’. The Legislative Assembly Building in Chandigarh is said to typify his approach to design in this latter stage of his career.

The Legislative Assembly Building by Le Corbusier in Chandigarh was designed as an architectural statement “strong enough to embody a sense of power and permanence, of seriousness and exaltation.”

Chandigarh was commissioned by Nehru “to reflect the new nation’s modern, progressive outlook.” According to Nehru the new city was to be “unfettered by the traditions of the past, a symbol of the nation’s faith in the future.”

Chandigarh a social utopia, designed as a post-war Garden City, despite the proliferation of the contemporary problems of urban ‘slums’ and ‘squatter’ settlements ranks first in India in the Human Development Index for quality of life and e-readiness.

The design of Chardigarh was intended to provide “equitable opportunities for a dignified, healthy living even to the ‘poorest of the poor’.”

Although it has been stated that Chandigarh could have been designed anywhere, the UNESCO listing acknowleges  Corbusier paid particular attention to the landscape context:

“The natural edges formed by the hills and the two rivers, the gently sloping plain with groves of mango trees, a stream bed meandering across its length and the existing roads and rail lines – all were given due consideration in the distribution of functions, establishing the hierarchy of the roads and giving the city its ultimate civic form.”

11 thoughts on “Optimism by design

  1. Tom Turner

    I nearly went to Chandigarh once, but missed the opportunity, so my comment is based only on reading: I do not understand how it can be seen as regional design. The view I am familiar with is that it is a European City which happens to have been built in India (1) the urban form is ‘wide open’, unlike the the traditional density of Indian cities (2) the architectural style is unlike anything else in India (3) the transport system was based on hydrocarbon power – not human and animal power, which still predominate in Indian cities. I do however agree with Nehru that it can “reflect the new nation’s modern, progressive outlook”. The buildings in the photographs are sculpturally beautiful and, unlike so much arid zone architecture, have well-shaded windows to keep out heat and glare.

  2. Christine

    I have not visited Chandigarh either – it would definitely be on my iternary on any visit to India. The notion of ‘regional design’ derives not from referencing the architecture and culture of the region, but rather from the approach taken by the designer to consider regional factors (including climate) within his design. Did he do this well?

    On a blog by someone who had visited Chandigarh described his visit in contrast to the surrounding environment as “like walking into a cultural coma.” He also notes of the building that the pool is dry and is now “just filled with dead animals and rubbish.”

    So without visiting myself, I am not sure what to make of this.

  3. Christine

    Kenneth Frampton’s 1987 definition is a good one. Critical Regionalism as a style rather than strictly an approach to architecture (Corbusier’s latter work, Utzon’s work) gained currency in the 1990’s. Some aspects of this movement perhaps follow more closely on Alexander Tzonis and Liane Lefaivre’s 1981 definition which evolves from critical theory rather than architectonics.[ http://www.worldarchitecture.org/theory-issues/index.asp?position=detail&no=11&ref=ri&rel=4 ]

    I suppose the nature v culture debate is important here. Is the architecture a response to place in the sense of setting or location? Or is it a response to the culture of place? Critical Regionalism as a theory and a style is grounded in a political polemic.

    Kenneth Framption in his essay on cultural sustainability says “Norberg-Schulz connects place very strongly to the definition of identity,personal as well as national.” I don’t believe Norberg-Schulz was making a political statement when he said this, rather he was commenting insightfully on place and architecture. [ http://home.earthlink.net/~aisgp/texts/regionalism/regionalism.html ]

    Re: Chandigarh. What you say is fair comment, however because Corbusier’s work is not fully resolved in all its aspects does not detract from what he has achieved. See the comments attributed to Mario Botta on “building the site”.

    Equally I don’t think it is inconsistent to recognise that Utzon, a Danish architect, could create a building in Australia which was so essentially a response to its location (even though it referenced in abstract a range of elemental forms from other cultures).

    Does Utzon’s work belong to ‘Critical Regionalism’ as a style? I would say not. Does it however demonstrate a critical regional approach to architecture? I would say yes.

  4. Tom Turner

    ‘Imperative’ is too-strong a word but I think there is a heavy obligation on all the built environment professions to THINK about both nature and culture when developing a design. And I see nature as the more important of the two. Development projects can and should respond to geography: landform, climate, hydrology, geology, ecology etc. The above photographs of Chardigarh are admirable for their response to sunlight and it would have been wise to follow this lead in many parts of the hot-arid zone. But much more important than this is the demonstration that appropriate responses to characteristics of the natural environment are possible/desirable/necessary.
    I also think the Plan Voisin demonstates a significant response to landscape – it is just a tragedy that Corb had such an odd attitude to gardens and that his example, rather than his principle, was followed in so many twentieth century building projects. He can, for example, stand beside Chairman Mao as one ot the men who most influence on modern China!
    Re Utzon, I agree that his regionalism is a response to culture rather than to nature.

  5. Christine

    Sorry that I was not clear. I would say Utzon’s regionalism is a response to nature first, in the case of the Sydney Opera House to the poetics of the harbour, to the wind, and to the light.

    Perhaps the following statement sums it up best: “Utzon is one of the very few architects with sufficient sense of abstraction and judgment to be able to translate the power of natural phenomena almost direct into buildings (others’ attempts to do so usually end up in kitsch fiasco).”

    Within the design there was also a response to the urban setting (which I suppose strictly speaking is cultural).

    In Utzon’s design for the Opera House it is almost too difficult to separate the two (nature and culture) as responses to context. However his cultural borrowings which were abstracted were not regional ie. South American temple platforms and references to Japanese architectural forms etc.

    Although I was much surprised to read this blog comment on the Opera House:
    “Even as a student I went on the occasional tour when it seemed as if one had strayed onto some gigantic Mayan temple.”

  6. Tom Turner

    Your summary is very good ‘the poetics of the harbour, to the wind, and to the light’. Would you say the same about the Burj Hotel in Dubai? To me it is less poetic – but still a good building.

  7. Tom Turner

    I agree about the Burj – very good but not nearly as good as the Sydney Opera House. The Burj looks a bit like an advertising display outside an airport – probably for mobile phones.

  8. Pingback: Critical regionalism – or critical localism? The Sydney Opera House and its context | Garden Design And Landscape Architecture Blog – Gardenvisit.com

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